The steps were smooth and the short descent before long ascent had been easier than she imagined. Fatigue had slowed her, but frequent stops to sit had prevented a crowding blackness in the corners of her vision from winning over. The staircase was lit from above at long intervals and gave a grey ambience to the walk, a complement to her pallor.
Rounding a corner, Lexus saw the staircase abruptly open into another large room. She gripped the sharp rib more tightly and backed up against the wall, attempting to peer out into the gloom. The room appeared to be a large chamber, a sophisticated version of the dungeon in which she awoke. It's walls were decorated in gigantic swirls, hatching, lightning, the colours barely visible through the light. To her horror it was filled with tables, chairs, a gigantic cauldron, and scarred bodies.
The Startlers lay prostrate everywhere, lying under skins snoring, stretched out on trestles, clustered in grunting, naked heaps. Suppressing her terror, Lexus stepped out in the room slowly, swallowing the urge to gag from the rank smell of the dozens of bodies, the waste of what must have been a huge banquet, the acrid smoke of burnt hair.
Lexus edged along the wall of the chamber, her eyes flicking left and right, adrenaline keeping her feet shuffling sideways, her heart racing. Through the gloom she saw a doorway further around the wall of the chamber. She increased her pace, the possibility of escape drawing fresh energy from her exhausted frame.
The howling started somewhere opposite the door she had reached. Ignoring the sleeping Startlers behind her, she dredged every last gram of strength and burst through the doorway into a distantly lit space. It was a corridor leading downwards, with an opening revelling what must be the light of the Commons. She began to run.
A figure stepped from the light and began to charge towards her, it's silhouette suggesting a small Startler, it's wild hair waving at it roared. Thievery jumped into her head as she neared the opening, the Accord flashing into her vision, her heartbeat surged again, and she lunged at the Startler as it closed on her. The rib slid easily into the beasts throat, his warm blood bursting onto her arm. The force of her attack thumped the Startler backwards and he collapsed on his back, dragging her forward with his clasping hands. She landed heavily on his chest, knocking the wind of from him, and forcing yet more blood from the wound. It screamed a cry of agony as the rib lodged in his neck, one responded to with howls of anger from the chamber behind.
Lexus hauled herself to her feet, and drawing on the shock and fear sprinted for the opening. It drew near quickly, too quickly, and she surged into the light, her eyes seizing from the brightness. She gasped as they closed but her legs still ran. Ran until she felt herself thump into a figure before her. Falling backwards she looked up at the creature, a Walker, tall, with reddened forehead and eyes scarred and bubbled shut by burns.
Lexus awoke groggy, but without the pressure of Startler hands holding her down. She attempted to move left, then right, but found the pain in her forearms and hands too great to allow them to support her. Raising her right arm she saw it poulticed from hand to bicep, the gouges of the torture stuffed with what looked like chewed or mulched leaves. She sat up slowly, cradling her arms. Her left was cut from hand to forearm. She felt weak from loss of blood, and wondered if they had been feeding her while she lay unconscious. Her stomach suggested no.
The stone dais they had laid her on sat in the middle of large room. The earthen floor extended 4 or 5 metres in every direction, and met stone walls that rose into a central opening. Looking up made her a little dizzy, and she quickly looked back down to the ground. The opening did not seem to open to sky, but appeared to be a chimney of some kind, a small amount of light refracting down it to light the room ever so slightly. She glanced back from the floor to the dark walls, scanning the gloom for figures.
Her forearm particularly ached where the Startler had bitten her. She shuddered involuntarily when she remembered, and quickly reached up to her temples. Her plugs were still in place, one small comfort available to her. She listened for Thievery, but found nothing. The Accord was closed to her. The Transept, likewise, seemed closed. No Watchers crowding her consciousness now, despite the words of the Wane.
Lexus felt her anger rising. It blended with confusion and fear, and coalesced into a small knot of hatred in her viscera. It afforded her a little strength, and she swung her legs off the dais. She lowered herself to the ground slowly through the dizziness and stood for a moment, gathering herself. She glanced again at the walls, then look a longer look, searching for a door or exit of some kind. The walls were patterned, and through the gloom she could great swirling patterns painted onto the rough, rocky surface. Spirals, zig-zags, interlocking geometrics, crude stick figured humanoids that appeared to be hunting what must be a drone.
She jumped at the sound of a Startler howling, the audible barrelling down the chimney above her, forcing her to stagger from the dais towards the encircling wall. Laughter followed.
They can see me, she thought, this too, is part of the game.
Still cradling her arms she edged along the walls, her eyes searching for signs of a door, or worse, the signs of a person in the room with her. She heard a snap beneath her feet and peered down. Bones. The agony in her hands was not enough to stop her first impulse, the grogginess not enough to stop her crouching to grab what seemed to be a broken rib. It was dry and somewhat brittle, but one end appeared to be sharp.
Lexus began to move more quickly around the room. The blood loss must be great, but the dizziness was fading quickly as adrenaline from her shock settled into her system, and she scanned the walls again for hairline cracks, tiny bits of light forcing its way into the room, her prison.
Despair began to encroach. Had they lowered her into the room through the chimney?
The realised. The dais. She walked carefully back towards it. She could see were the blood from her arms had been split onto the top, where it had trickled over the side, and where some had bridged the fracture between the top, and its supporting walls. She extended her aching hands and pushed what was in fact a lid, which swung open gently, noiselessly.